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JCF Blog

When Children Speak

Posted by: Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Hartford on 3/28/2018

As families around the world join together at the Passover Seder this weekend, many youngest children may be squirming in their seats, and not just because of the threat of gefilte fish. They will be called on to speak – often in front of 20 or 30 of their closest relatives. For a family gathering rich in tradition and delicious food, the Seder calls on people to perform more than most holiday meals – and for the youngest, this is their chance to shine (or mumble nervously throughout).

The Four Questions could arguably be considered the basis of the Seder. The questions get right to the point: why are we here?

For this most essential of questions, we ask the youngest to explain. They are invited to engage, yes; but they hold the floor for the first time in a formal setting. It’s a big deal.

Youth voices have been on my mind lately, not least of which because I’ve been privileged to attend a few B’nai Mitzvot. As someone who’s struggled with stage fright, especially as an adolescent, I admire every child who stands at the bimah, no matter how well they keep their composure or how perfectly they perform. There’s nothing more inspiring to me than a young woman, especially, raising her voice confidently before a crowd.

There’s also a movement of youth voices who are embodying Tikkun Olam on a national scale, advocating for themselves and their fellow students, and seeking to repair the world. They are the students who Marched for their Lives last weekend, the survivors of Parkland, FL, youth from Chicago, Los Angeles, Ferguson, Mo., and all over our nation. They are changing the nature of the gun control and gun regulation discussion in this country – largely from high podiums, before major media groups, and without the benefit of months of preparation.

When I see teenagers speaking their truth, with the kind of composure and poise that often eludes many an adult, I am awed. Their palpable anger and heartbreak, channeled for good, should serve as a reminder to all of us to rise to the occasion when called.

I am also reminded of the powerful asset we have in our children. Our children will lead us to a better tomorrow – and our responsibility lies in helping them develop their voices. They will determine what and how they say it, if we have given them the tools to find the value in their own perspectives.  

I will see the youngest at my Passover table in a different light this year. She will remind me, as she reads, of the many children also speaking around the world, and her possibility as a leader. Perhaps she will contribute throughout the Seder, or perhaps that will be her moment to shine – but by next year, I hope to have encouraged her to come into her own even more. I hope that, as a community, we continue to foster the strong, independent voices of young people and give them chances to speak up and speak out. Because magic can happen when they do.

We at the Foundation wish you a happy, joyous Passover.

Kathryn Gonnerman is Interim President & CEO and Director, Center for Innovative Philanthropy at the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Hartford 

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Michael Johnston
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Brilliantly said. Very impressed with this generation that so passionately pursues the search for solutions to the broken parts of our world. If they are a vision of our future, I believe we are in good hands.
Ilana Bernstein
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You are right. The perspective of the younger generation is so important no only for their insights but also for their complete unbiased opinions. I am amazed, personally, to see my children grow up. I cherish the moments when they speak up with unexpected wisdom. So much of our Passover Hagaddah is made up of interesting language and stories that we take too much for granted. We have ben given the gift of language and our voices have so much power.
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